Back in June I attended the meeting of the Midlands Association of Building Preservation Trusts. The day was very useful in connection with Prescot and its THI.
The day’s events were in Burslem in Staffordshire, which has had two THI’s over the last eight years.
Burslem is known as the ‘Mother Town’, as it was the first settlement in Staffordshire to become a centre for making pottery and ceramics, before nearby Stoke and Newcastle-under-Lyme. Burslem is now part of the City of Stoke. Prescot historically had a few potteries, but nothing on the scale of Burslem, and the closure of big pottery factories like Royal Doulton (closed 2004) chimes with Prescot’s loss of BICC in the 1990s.
These ‘bottle ovens’ used to fire the ceramics are all that remains on this very large pottery factory site that has been demolished.
The venue for the day was Burslem School of Art. This lovely Edwardian building of 1905 was where, among other things, the highly skilled people who designed and hand painted the town’s mass-produced pottery and ceramics were trained. The building is Grade II Listed and has for the last few years been occupied by a community enterprise which lets the former classrooms to artists, craftspeople, and community organisations – a great re-use of the building that keeps the classrooms and big central stairwell in place.
This is the view out of our ‘classroom’ in the Burslem School of Art. One historic building framing several others…
The morning was a series of talks from heritage funders such as the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and organisations like Locality which supports local and community-owned heritage. It’s good to know what’s out there in terms of other possible schemes of funding or the ways that the community can take the lead if it wants to.
The afternoon was a guided tour around Burslem town centre, where the second of two THI’s was just finishing. It gives an idea of what sort of improvements will be made in Prescot over the next five years.
One of our first stops was just outside of the THI area and so isn’t a THI project, but I couldn’t resist including it in this post. A businessman had bought a vacant late Victorian congregational church and school and turned it into a climbing centre – complete with full height climbing walls in the middle of the church hall! This is a great example of how historic buildings can take on new uses. The hall is still a large open space and the climbing walls can always be removed at a later date to return the hall back to how it used to be. They are renovating the building room by room and the rooms yet to be tackled gave an idea of how bad a state the building used to be.
Empty churches can be hard to re-use without wrecking their interior. This climbing centre has the advantage of keeping the scale of the church hall and being completely reversible.
Returning to the THI area, we stopped by a former Liberal Club that is now offices. We were told that before the THI grant-aided repairs, rain would get in through the roof, through the empty upper floors and land in buckets in the insurance offices at ground floor! The repaired and restored building looks fabulous and can now be fully occupied now that it’s dry inside!
The former Liberal Club in Burslem has undergone extensive repair and restoration via Burlsem THI.
Nearby we saw another repaired and restored commercial building. Here, a lot of effort had been made to restore a traditional timber shopfront to the building. Unfortunately this good work has been undone to a degree by the being plastic box signs fixed onto the shopfront. It just shows that once a building is restored it needs to be carefully managed.
This shopfront has been repaired and restored using THI funding, but look what has happened since – signage that completely undermines the traditional character of the building.
At Nile Street we saw three buildings that had all been repaired, restored and converted to new uses using THI grants. The first two buildings could almost belong on Eccleston Street – three storey brick buildings with shops at ground floor. Work was just finishing on the shopfront of the corner building that had been restored to its former glory and really lifted the look of the street. We were told that it would be re-used as a hair salon with the upper floors used for training people in salon trades.
Above and below: two buildings repaired and restored using THI grants in Burslem
The third building was almost derelict a few years ago, with its last occupier – a second-hand furniture / antiques dealer using only the ground floor. Even while the building was being repaired as part of the THI it was on the verge of collapse and needed emergency propping. The finished building has brought life back to the street. It now houses three businesses and a number of flats – not bad for a building that almost fell down!
The same building before THI funded works (above) and after THI funded works. The building has gone from a semi-derelict wreck to the home of three businesses and several households.
On the way back I spotted another building that must have been repaired and restored under one of the THIs. What caught my eye, apart from the elaborate first floor windows, was the hand painted sign on the gable – a lovely creative bit of new signage!
I hope this little run-through of the day gives an idea of the types of building repair and restoration that will be happening in Prescot soon.
The next blog entry
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